Rishi, Don’t Lose That Number

A week ago, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak traveled north to address the faithful with a sermon in the SEC.  He played the usual refrain of how the SNP are failing Scotland and how the Tories are “delivering for all parts of the Union”, citing £1bn in levelling-up, two freeports, etc. coming to Scotland, how survival of Covid was only possible due to the scale of support provided in furlough, etc. He even shaded into condescension when he referred to the Scottish Parliament as “a Devolved Assembly”.

Such gutsiness for the future of Scottish Conservativism was undermined by a scene outside the conference when Rishi Sunak’s minders attempted to block several newspapers, , from attending a media Q&A session.This is an example of “controlling the story” that the present breed of muscular media specialists favour. Such media handling has become systemic, driven by how Boris Johnson took pages out of Donald Trump’s playbook—that the Big Lie was more credible than the small one, and that gallus* bluster works better than factual reasoning.

Such tactics were again deployed in the week since, as sundry ministers appeared across the media parroting the same story that Rishi was following five prioroties that mattered to the people and that the English local elections would be difficult and might result in the loss of as many as 1,000 Conservative councillors. This latter is known in the trade as “expectation management; paint a dire picture, so that a bad result looks good by comparison and can be touted as some kind of victory.

Sadly, the Tories “builded better than they knew” (pace R. W. Emerson) , losing almost exactly the prediction in a result even more dire than Theresa May managed in the throes of Brexit inertia in 2019.

Rishi and his team must be grateful that wall-to-wall coverage of the Coronation blanked serious coverage and analysis of what this result portends. To hear other parties, Tory fate is sealed. Indeed, knives are out among rebellious Tory MPs who are either feeling politically precarious or are on the IDS/Redwood/Truss low-tax wing, who see Hunt’s present posture as an affront to their principles. Neither camp seems to have read the runes.

For, while the Tories need not look far to find reasons for voter discontent at their recent rule, Labour is reading rather too much into the local election results, the overview of which is in Figure 1

Figure 1—English Councillors by Party, Post-May 5th (source: BBC News)

Yes, the Tories took an unholy drubbing, losing a third of their councillors, control of 49 councils and slipping from their place as the largest party. But Labour picked up barely half of those seats, with the other half going to ebullient LibDems and Greens.

This suggests that, while Rishi may be achieving some popularity, his party isn’t. And, while Labour is recovering ground lost, their leader isn’t. The shift in voting signals discontent with Tories for more than inspiration by Starmer. If there is a lesson for next year’s General Election, it is that the probable outcome will be a hung parliament.

But, worse than that, in the run-up to the next election and after it (if Starmer stalls and the Tories stagger on), the low-tax rebels will seize the moment and trigger yet another blue-on-blue, ferrets-in-a-sack interlude. This is unfortunate for the country, because their mantra is flawed and there is a glaring example of why, if only they would care to do their homework. For example, take a look at what the American Republicans have failed to achieve by the idealistic policy that they have followed of slashing taxes.

The Brookings Institution (BI) in the U.S. has outlined a very different vision of the global economy and American economic leadership to the Republicans, which is to integrate domestic policy and foreign policy. 

The BI asserts many of the economic challenges facing the USA have been created by the economic ideology that has shaped U.S. policy for the past 40 years. The idea that markets would spread capital to where it was most needed to create an efficient and effective economy has been proved wrong.

Under Reagan and Bush, the U.S. did cut taxes, slashed business regulations, privatised public projects and advocated free trade on principle with the understanding that all growth was good growth. And if the U.S. lost infrastructure and manufacturing, it could make up those losses in finance. But, as countries lowered their economic barriers and became more closely integrated with each other, they would also become more open and peaceful. 

That did not happen. Today’s tax-cutting Republicans are reduced to gesture politics. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy persuaded Congress to pass a bill demanding major concessions from Biden before the Republicans would agree to raise the debt ceiling. He succeeded only because everyone knew it was dead on arrival at the Senate, and so would never become law.

This sorry pass is where prioritising tax cuts over fundamental economic growth has got them—a national debt of $32 trillion, rising at $30,000 each second. The U.S. lost supply chains and entire industries as jobs moved overseas, while countries like China discarded markets in favour of artificially subsidising their economies. Rather than ushering in world peace, the market-based system saw an aggressive China and Russia expand their international power. 

The American stance on tax cutting has not achieved the desired outcome. The Tories have always been the self-proclaimed party of low taxes—a popular stance among British voters. But the American experience should be a warning message to any UK Government—tax cutting does not expand an economy in a changing global economic climate. Savvy UK voters will demand economic policies that drive growth directly. Those who grasp this will win the next General Election.

The whole Brexit rationale in Britain was to follow this flawed American example. The tax-cutting wing of the Tories are as wedded to this ideology as Republicans. Unlike a century ago, Britain does not wield equivalent economic clout. In Britain‘s enthusiastic embrace of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Since UK trade in the region is relatively small it is not clear that heavyweight dogs will not wind up wagging the British tail, as they see fit.

If Rishi is to regain the initiative, not to mention the numbers of councillors, he will need more than a five-point plan to ease the people’s current economic pain. Simply building HS2 or nuclear power stations will not re-establish Britain as a major economic force until they have thriving businesses to connect and industries to power. With imports growing and exports dropped by 30% since Brexit, we need to make something the world needs in quantity. The wealth created by the wide boys of Canary Wharf doesn’t spread much outside the M25.

Nd 85% of UK votes live outside the M25.

  • gallus (Scot.) = abrasively self-confident
  • #1067—1,132 words

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
This entry was posted in Commerce, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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